Thursday, 23 January 2014

Localisation gets strong endorsements

Suddenly the news seems a whole lot better about the UK. And some really good news for digital retailers came out of a recent report, The global retail e-mpire by OC&C strategy Consultants and Google that analysed three years worth of online retail across the US, UK, Germany, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and France.

The UK is apparently the world's top ecommerce exporter. It comes down to a level of trust that consumers have about UK retailers. (See New Media Knowledge, E-commerce and trust: It is time to think more about Localisation (30.12.2013). The consumers believe that they will receive the goods they pay for from the UK while they are not so sure about other countries, even their own.

The analysis links this trust to the history of the UK retail market and to effective localisation strategies employed by the top digital retailers. It may surprise you to find that some of these top e-tailers were digitally born and bred, while other traditional brands have made good on their reputations. (See Media Week, UK leads world's ecommerce exports as fashion brands travel well, by Arif Durrani, 20.1.2014)

It's not easy to localise effectively. Phillip Rooke of Spreadshirt, quoted in The global retail e-mpire at OC&C, highlights several of the aspects of localisation strategies such as working across many and varied tax and law jurisdictions, across languages, across currencies, across several dispersed factories and offices.

Scott Heimes, in the New Media Knowledge article mentioned above, gives many points about how localisation needs to fit the consumers' expectations which vary according to country and culture. Perhaps his strongest point is this:
Failure to localise for each region can result in a sales loss of 30 percent or more. Companies that get it right, however, will be able to capitalise on the growing generation of online shoppers, wherever they may be.
So, there are challenges to make good on the hope that the report brings for UK e-tailers. But we have got a head start and that's quite something in the digital age.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Pitch and Tender process, and you

Isn't the beginning of a new year the time for you to appraise your relationship with pitch and tender contract opportunities? Have you kept a record of the time and effort (therefore the total cost) that pitch and tenders have run up for you in the last year? Do you keep a record of the wins versus the losses and from that you can work out the positive or negative financial impact on your company? Do you regularly assess how to improve your success rate by understanding what went wrong?

Sorry about the spray quick fire questions but they need answering and every person in your company should be aware of the answers.

That's all very well, you may think, if your company is not even bothered with pitch and tender contracts. Perhaps you may benefit from a rethink. Many small and medium companies reckon they can't be bothered with pitch and tender because they such things fit the profile of larger companies better. That used to be the case. However, it appears that this might be changing and you could be missing out. Tenders, the UK and European online site, quotes 50% of local authority, 20% of central government contracts went to small and medium companies, and 16% of all European contracts went to micro companies (employing less than 10 people). Food for thought, don't you think?

You need to consider carefully which contracts to apply for, of course. They need to fit with your business strategy. It's no good rushing into this if you have little experience. There's a lot of expertise applied in the process. The site notes at 'Tenders' are worth noting.

On the other hand, if your company is well into pitches, what's the latest advice about making them successful? The Pitch Doctor has some answers that might influence you so take a look at, Good luck for your pitches in 2014, but don’t rely on it, where he gives 3 pieces of advice.The quality of the relationship with the client,
  1. The fit of your offering to the strategy, operational goals and value perspective – both logically and emotionally.
  2. Convincing the client that you want the work and will push them forward.
The ‘relationship’ aspect with the client is stressed at e>erthing d.fferent. . Do you take part in pre-pitch/tender meetings? What do you think the client is looking for? E>erythingd.fferent describes these meetings as ‘chemistry’ meetings and gives examples of where they got it right and where they got it wrong. These are insightful and ring true. This company advocates the IPA and ISBA (both companies representing British Advertisers) 6 principles for pitching that both agencies and clients should adhere to.
  1. Openness and transparency
  2. Respect
  3. Bravery
  4. Access and Navigation
  5. Timing
  6. Power of collective action
Things to think about then to feed into your pitch/tender strategy. You do have one of those, don't you?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Who's writing your user stories? Or, Agile under analysis.

The programming change from Waterfall to Agile methods was driven by the need to respond faster to client's needs in a digital age. The lack of speed was one of the biggest grumbles from clients as the market shifted before a project was complete. Speed of development was and still is crucial so anything that might streamline the development process was embraced. Now, enter Agile methodology with its sprints, scrums and user stories.

We've discussed the spin-off difficulties that Agile caused for project management because the iterative development cycle was difficult to cost upfront with a projection. This is because in Agile, small pieces of the whole are defined and developed and tested (usually meaning from a programming functionality perspective), shown to the client and approved, amended or thrown out. Some companies have got around this by reckoning from their experience on the usual number of sprints that a project undergoes and estimating a development cost based around this for the clients. There would be provisos that more would cost more and fewer would be less based again on the average cost of a sprint of work. So far so good.

But – isn't there always a but! The small pieces to work on in a sprint have been defined along user stories. This means defining that a typical user would want X and need to do Y to achieve Z (Andy touched on this in a recent post). The user stories are analysed and prioritised involving the client. Now here's the but. Do your user stories really work? Do they give good results when tested in situ with real users? How to write good user stories is generating lots of brain-cell energy. This is the big question.

Now programmers are not going to like the next bit. William Hudson, in his Nov/Dec 2013 article in ACM Interactions, User stories don't help users. Introducing Persona stories, (see also his draft fuller article) he queries whether allowing people not renowned for their interpersonal skills to define user roles is wise. He "found that technology-focused men working in IT had significantly reduced empathy". Don't shoot the messenger here!

Given that there are many people in the wider digital team who reckon that their specialism includes analysing user behaviour - digital architects, usability specialists, any human behaviour specialists such as HCI specialists, instructional designers, training analysts, marketing professionals, subject-matter experts and so on - then getting an acceptable definition of a user story might lead to inter-team debate. Do you suffer with this?

William Hudson makes some salient points. The usual way of defining user stories may miss out on how often the person needs to do this task and what variants might be needed under certain conditions. His fuller article gives a short overview of the history of user stories in Agile environments. The UK Government design brief for defining user stories uses the formula of actor, narrative, goal, for example. Where would this sit with William Hudson’s theory?

You may like the practical hints and tips given by Craig Strong in his blog What makes a Good User Story?, where a basic role definition for a user story is given but he does acknowledge that some stories might need more work.

This is a prickly problem – writing good user stories. Maybe a toolkit might help. See User Story Toolkit from Rally Software.

Anyone got any more tips?

Friday, 3 January 2014

How social are your media?

Happy New Year to all. I hope you're all doing well, and some of you will be sharing such information via social media of various kinds. There's the seemingly ubiquitous Twitter, the suit-and-tie LinkedIn, the snap-and-share Instagram and even the partly-owned-by-Justin-Timberlake musicality of MySpace ... and lots more. Enough social media to be sociable amongst themselves it seems with more interconnections than the New York Subway.

The days of needing to grow your own web pages, and even your own blogs, have moved on to an environment where we're all a kind of DJ, broadcasting our favourite moments and collecting followers like small boys collect stamps.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines social media as "web sites and applications which enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking" and gives the origin of the term (or at least its first citation) as 2004 with a conference called The Business of Social Media ... so this could be its tenth anniversary, at least of the term itself. MySpace and LinkedIn were formed in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010.

Wikipedia's list of social networking sites is instructive. The earliest one dated in the list is in 1995 (the UK equivalent, Friends Reunited, dates from 2000). Older than I expected. Even more interesting, and extensive, is the page on social networking itself. This one reads a bit like an abbreviated PhD thesis! It's a big social world out there.

If you're a business it's very difficult to keep up. Since the sites will wax and wane in popularity you will need someone who can follow the trends and advise which networks fit best with your clients' communications. IMHO Twitter and LinkedIn are a minimum (and in my case probably the maximum as well). Facebook seems to be the leader, with most unique visitors, at least in the English-speaking world. The end of 2013 saw a brief flurry of questions about Facebook possibly losing its core teen audience because they didn't want to be on the same network as their parents. This needed more careful examination and fortunately that came from the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones. Did you know that in part of Australia you can be served a summons via Facebook?

I've scored a couple of successes by contacting companies via Twitter and picked up some interesting followers. Pick the right 'DJs' that you want to follow ... for their news or their jokes or their photos. I'll tweet this iProfessionals blog entry and make the whole thing somewhat recursive. The main thing is that you need to make regular, even if occasional, use of your social media accounts and then people will know where to find you. I'm at @Delverie.